Disclosure/Content Warning: I identify as queer and I use the word queer in this post. I am pan, cisfemme, white and able bodied. I am also poor, and suffer from debilitating anxiety. I am also dyslexic (sorry for all the odd spelling mistakes). I am going to talk about bigotry, violence, assault, centered on the protest that happened at the Edmonton Pride parade.
So I have privilege in many areas, and yet I am not so privileged in others.
Emotions are running high right now in both the queer communities and the general community, as a result of a peaceful protest that halted the parade for a few minutes yesterday. I am not immune to feeling a strong emotional response myself, but I am working hard to understand why my communities (both the queer community and the kink community) are reacting so negatively to what I viewed (and still view) as successful and needed protest. There are a lot of voices adding their experiences, and most of the conversation is focused on being either for or against police marching in the parade.
And I am watching an already at risk community (LGBTQIA2S++) rip itself apart over this very question.
Should police officers/military personnel be able to march in the parade?
In an ideal world we (the LGBTQIA2S++) community would have been working along side Queer Persons of Colour and Trans Persons of Colour, fighting to ensure that they have the same rights in society as the white queer folk have. We would have recognized the patterns and framework of oppression being used to deny part of our community their rights.
I am not old enough to have been a part of the original pride movement, but hearing accounts from people who were there it seems like the same patterns emerge again and again when a group is being marginalized (a fancy word to indicate they are being treated as less when compared to the main group(s). The main group(s) is/are the ones that have the privilege of choosing if they want to be aware of the difference in treatment, because it does not really impact them).
Equal Rights for Women:
Women fought to have the right to be treated as humans of equal value to men. In different societies and cultures this fight for equality focused on different things. In some societies this battle included the right to a life not subject to systemically approved violence (including here in Canada). Canadian women fought for the rights to not be raped, to vote & own property, wear pants. Hell, in many places women could not (and in some still can not) be out and about without a male person in charge of them, without facing harassment and /or arrest by the authorities (policing agencies). Tellingly, the most marginalized women among us were often engaged in a struggle to change the way they were treated in their own communities, as well as joining the battle for equal rights nationally, yet that little tidbit seems to be missing from my text books. Even in Canada the right to control what happens to my body is an ongoing battle. Access to birth control, the right to not be raped or beaten by a partner, the right to have a voice in medical care etc are still ongoing fights. Wages are still not equal, educational opportunities are still not equal
The Patterns of Oppression in Women’s Rights:
- Demonizing: Women suffragettes were depicted as man hating, bra burning, macho, ugly women. Shrews, hysterical, violent, deranged.
- Pathology: Some women who were too loud about their desire to be treated like people were pathologized, subjected to medical tests and hospitalized.
- Criminalize: Laws were/are passed to make it difficult for women to exist outside of being a man’s counterpart. The less privilege these women had, the more likely they were to face violent repercussions at the hands of the authorities.
- Representation: The media representations of women were as property or less than that of men. Men were cast as leaders, strong, intelligent, providers etc and women as helpless, emotionally, childish.
- Division of Community: There were times in history when women’s rights was a struggle being fought for and with women of differing ethnicity. That changed rapidly, as those with power dangled partial equality and the one group grabbed at it (many white women chose to fight for their rights exclusively when it became apparent that black men might get the vote before white women did.)
Equal rights for the Gay Community:
People of varying sexuality fought for the right to be permitted to have consensual relationships, just like the rights that hetersexuals had. This fight looks different for different cultures. In Canada there was a fight to end the violent oppression and criminalizaiton of homosexuality.
The Patterns of Oppression in Gay rights:
- Demonizing: Gays were portrayed as child molesters, monsters, deviants.
- Pathology: Some gay (or suspected gay) persons were hospitalized and /or sent to be cured of their homosexuality
- Criminalize: Laws were/are passed to make it difficult for gay people to have gay relationships. The less privilege they had, the more likely they were to experience violent repercussions at the hands of authorities.
- Representation: The media representations of gays were caricatures if present at all. Gender stereotypes were reaffirmed, so that every outlet was bombarding us with heterosexuality as the only thing that really existed. Things are a bit better now, although many shows still focus on perpetuating the flamboyant stereotype. Most representations are of white persons in same sex relationships, however. There are a couple shows now about trans persons, also mostly white.
- Division of Community: There were times in history when gay rights were being fought by the majority of the queer community, and just like in women’s rights the history books seem to be missing those details. Yet when it became apparent that change would happen for some groups faster the gay pride movement became one dominated by sexy men who wore leather and were white (or at least not tooooo ethnic). By the late 80’s most people knew about gay men and lesbians, but for some reason trans was not a topic being discussed. Gay marriage rights were passed, the right to have adult consensual sex was passed, the right to adopt. It’s only been recently that legislation to ensure trans persons are treated with respect and dignity have been written, and this is also ongoing.
Equal Rights for People of Colour
The fight to gain equal rights for all people regardless of their skin colour is not a new one. Throughout history in our country we have oppressed anyone who isn’t white, starting with our Indigenous folk.
The Patterns of Oppression of Persons of Colour:
- Demonizing: People of colour are portrayed as lazy, cheating, terrorists, simple, savages (depending on which ”colour” the demonization may take different paths)
- Pathology: Interesting, there seems to be LESS mental health assistance in Canada for persons of colour. Rather than recognizing that people with differing skin tones can also experience mental health disorders they are often pathologized as lazy, defiant, angry and the assumption made that their struggle is due to their ethnicity. Except when the authorities get involved, see point 3.
- Criminalize: Laws were/are passed to make it difficult for persons of colour to focus on anything but survival. Today our persons of colour are grossly over represented in our prison systems, particularly indigenous peoples although here in Edmonton Somalian folk are also finding they are targeted as well. The more marginalized a person of colour is the more likely they are to face violent repercussions at the hands of authorities. I advise you to go listen to a Somalian Human Rights Meeting. They are in a constant struggle to survive. It is not acceptable. Go listen to a First Nations Human Rights meet, or any other person of colour human rights town hall. Many people with darker skin tones in our city face day to day harassment, not just from local wing nuts, but from police as well.
- Representation: The media representations of people of colour is scant and skewed. Black people are most likely to be cast into the role of the evil/bad person, Asian persons as math professors, computer whizzes or martial arts experts (or mobs), Indigenous people….. heck I can’t remember the last time I saw an indigenous person on a tv show except for corner gas? Never mind a queer person of colour, or a trans person of colour.
- Division of Community: This is harder to research, because other than inflammatory #BLM STRIKES AGAIN! or Antifa headlines, the media does not seem to have much interest in the struggle to end racism, (or at least remove the systemic racism). It appears that many of the equal rights groups are acting individually, although they do come together at times (such as the pride parade). Will they too start dividing out as one group becomes more socially palatable and is able to see the chance to gain rights if they leave behind their more marginalized folk?
Persons of colour can vote (if they are citizens), but they are grossly over represented in our prisons, as our most poor, as our homeless etc. They also experience more violence. They are more likely to be raped, physically assaulted, verbally assaulted, thrown out of their rented home with no notice, and bullied in public. They are also more likely to face police brutality and harassment, to be carded and surveilled, than their white peers.
This pattern continues with every group that is facing oppression.
If you are poor, homeless, differently abled you likely experience oppression from that as well. It is always the same. Depict them as lesser, make sure they have no healthy representation, make their very being illegal or ill. From there the individuals in that group are so busy just trying to make it through their day that they don’t have energy for anything else. Then they break-they start to realize just how fucked up it all is, they talk to each other, they form alliances and groups and have meetings.
Typically these groups try reason first.
They talk to those helping them to be oppressed by just benefiting from it. They talk to their oppressors. They try to share information, to gain support. They gain a few supporters along the way, because yes-it is reasonable to want to be treated equally and justly. But most people will ignore them.
Because most of us have the privilege to ignore it. It doesn’t impact our daily life (aside from the inconvenience of having to wait 14 minutes for the parade to restart), so we don’t notice it, won’t notice and therefore we give zero fucks.
So the marginalized group has to find other ways of getting us to listen, to see the pain they suffer and to hurt for the injustice of it. And meanwhile the oppressive forces are busy giving us things to focus on, to distract from the validity of the marginalized group and their right to equality. Instead we are focused on outrage that our party was interrupted. Anger that the hard work and activism that went into achieving the gay rights we have are not being celebrated the way we feel we earned. Anger that our pain is not be centered.
But the big boggle seems to be: Do the police and military deserve to be in the pride parade.
On the one hand we have a group that is being abused in society, based on their skin colour. Statistically they are being arrested at high rates, carded on a damn near daily basis, they get pulled over at higher rates (when not doing anything incorrect, often based on an officers ”gut feeling”). They are more likely to be physically hauled out of their vehicles, more likely to be violently restrained, more likely to suffer injury during arrest.
And they are more likely to be the one arrested ,even when they themselves reach out to the police for help, if the person they called the police about is white or cis and they are not.
They face daily hatred in the larger community, and they are ostracized from their own queer community, by the very things that are being said and done in the last 48 hours. As white queer folk we often minimize the violence they experience. We deny their struggles because they are not our own experience. We ally with our friends who are officers over the experiences of our queer folk of colour and trans folk of colour.
But what about those who are queer and are or were part of these organizations?
This is a difficult challenge. Someone I respect was sharing their story, about a time here in Edmonton when these organizations were interrogating their own to out (and often arrest) their own members for being suspected of being gay. This individual talked about the various levels of homophobia they experienced at the hands of their own co-workers. They strongly feel that because of the ground that has been covered, that the police should welcome to participate. The same argument has been made of the military.
I myself served in the army. I joined at a time when they were all over the news about women being valued and welcome in service, not just as medics, but as soldiers. The publicity was very much one that painted our armed forces as one that was inclusive and diverse, accepting of all persons.
That was not my experience on the inside. One of my commanding officers was constantly making disgusting comments. From insisting I help a fellow out of the ”nuke suit” because I “obviously have a lot of practice taking off men’s clothing”, to handing me a peanut butter tube and telling me how this “hooker I knew would use crunchy peanut butter to enhance sensation when giving me a blowjob. You should try it!” If we didn’t respond favorably to overtures by our male counterparts we were ”stupid dykes” and open to all kinds of physical and emotional abuses. If we did even smile at their comments, we were sluts and useless. The men we trained beside, if they protested the treatment we were getting, were punished as well. If they showed any sign of ‘being a sissy’ they were given grueling physical tasks to toughen them up.
I get that much work has been done since I served. MUCH WORK, and I am very grateful. However, I have met people who are recently out of service, who have also experienced the joys of the toxic masculinity of military culture. Where being a sissy is still a mocking point. Where although they are ”letting the gays in” those gays had best be masculine presenting. Where beatings occur in the middle of the night for anyone who isn’t towing the line, where those beatings are ignored by commanding officers. Stories of sexual assaults that occur in service against any member not towing that gender line. Most of these stories are told to me by persons out within the last 2 years, who are queer persons of colour, or trans persons of colour, who dared not disclose that while serving. My heart breaks for them.
To be fair, I have met some masculine of centre gay men who have served and had no trouble at all, and seem to be unaware that their experience is dramatically different that that of some of their peers. And this makes sense to me, that we each will only be aware of our own experiences unless someone else shares theirs.
Police and RCMP have also undergone many changes. And that is great that they are working on being better at being a part of the supports for the communities they serve. I do not want to for a moment downplay the efforts that have been made, or the changes that have occurred.
Can we also admit that there are still some huge problems in policing regarding sexism and racism and other bigotry? That police culture includes a brotherhood of behaving and thinking a certain way-and that this results in the oppression of people of colour, and that queer and trans people of colour are impacted on many levels?
Heck, all this work that is being done in policing, yet there is a class action lawsuit for sexual harassment, and women’s rights have long been determined by most of society to be ”done”. Is it unreasonable to assume that although policies are being created, and new training implemented, that it is going to take a long time for this to change in practice?
This is a real challenge to navigate, because YES! There are many LGBTQIA2s+ persons who are involved in the policing or military based organizations, and yes, they should have a place to participate at pride. And YES! We of course want to see these organizations continue to examine their policies and practices, to ensure that they are behaving in a way that is supportive of the queer community members.
1. Does police support of the LGBTQIA2S+ community depend on their being a part of the parade? (And if so, is that really support)
2. Is any organization entitled to represent their organization at pride, if their organization is still engaging in oppressive actions against any part of the queer community?
3. Are we, as humans and or as queer folk, responsible for helping our most marginalized obtain the same rights and freedoms we have, not just on paper but in practice?
4. Are there other ways we can support the growth in our policing and military organizations, without putting persons of colour from our communities at risk for continued oppression?
5. Is it unreasonable to ask that organizations claiming to be allies to the queer community show accountability for their own actions?
6. Are we doing anything tangible and real to alleviate the suffering caused by societal oppression of persons of colour in our community? In our City? In our Province? In our Country?
What can we do to move forward and begin healing, both as a society and as a queer community?
1. We can stop throwing mud at each other. The name calling is not helping
2. We can give room to those with less privileged than we have, by simply listening with the intent to understand (not just to rebut, but to develop understanding and compassion)
3. We can have conversations, WITH QPOC and TPOC, about their experiences.
4. We can ask QPOC and TPOC what we can do better.
5. We can work to be sure that our history includes information and references to the persons of colour who were involved, both our written and our oral history.
6. We can remind ourselves and each other of what it is like to have people we thought were loving supports to turn on us, and strive not to do that to others.
7. We can create a Proud and United movement, where we strive to center the voices of the most marginalized, while still honouring the work and efforts that have happened by the older generation.
I would love more suggestions from the individuals who are most impacted. . If there is need for space for meetings to further advance the rights of queer persons, please contact us. We are a poor organization, but we do have space to share.